Balsam Lake, Balsam Branch Watershed (SC05)
Balsam Lake, Balsam Branch Watershed (SC05)
Balsam Lake (2620600)
1901.50 Acres
Natural Community
Natural communities (stream and lake natural communities) represent model results that use predicted flow and temperature based on landscape features and related assumptions. Ranges of flow and temperature associated with specific aquatic life communities (fish, macroinvertebrates) help biologists identify appropriate resource management goals. Wisconsin Natural Communities.
Shallow Lowland
Year Last Monitored
This is the most recent date of monitoring data stored in SWIMS. Additional surveys for fish and habitat may be available subsequent to this date.
Trout Water 
Trout Waters are represented by Class I, Class II or Class III waters. These classes have specific ecological characteristics and management actions associated with them. For more information regarding Trout Classifications, see the Fisheries Trout Class Webpages.
Outstanding or Exceptional 
Wisconsin has designated many of the state's highest quality waters as Outstanding Resource Waters (ORWs) or Exceptional Resource Waters (ERWs). Waters designated as ORW or ERW are surface waters which provide outstanding recreational opportunities, support valuable fisheries and wildlife habitat, have good water quality, and are not significantly impacted by human activities. ORW and ERW status identifies waters that the State of Wisconsin has determined warrant additional protection from the effects of pollution. These designations are intended to meet federal Clean Water Act obligations requiring Wisconsin to adopt an 'antidegradation' policy that is designed to prevent any lowering of water quality - especially in those waters having significant ecological or cultural value.
Impaired Water 
A water is polluted or 'impaired' if it does not support full use by humans, wildlife, fish and other aquatic life and it is shown that one or more of the pollutant criteria are not met.

Fish and Aquatic Life

Current Use
The use the water currently supports. This is not a designation or classification; it is based on the current condition of the water. Information in this column is not designed for, and should not be used for, regulatory purposes.
Shallow Lowland
Shallow lowland lake describes the depth and location of the lake in a watershed. These variables affect the lakes response to watershed variables.
Attainable Use
The use that the investigator believes the water could achieve through managing "controllable" sources. Beaver dams, hydroelectric dams, low gradient streams, and naturally occurring low flows are generally not considered controllable. The attainable use may be the same as the current use or it may be higher.
Aquatic Life
Waters that support fish and aquatic life communities (healthy biological communities).
Designated Use
This is the water classification legally recognized by NR102 and NR104, Wis. Adm. Code. The classification determines water quality criteria and effluent limits. Waters obtain designated uses through classification procedures.
Default FAL
Fish and Aquatic Life - Default Waters do not have a specific use designation subcategory but are considered fishable, swimmable waters.


Balsam Lake, in the Balsam Branch Watershed, is a 1,901.46 acre lake that falls in Polk County. This lake is managed for fishing and swimming and is currently not considered impaired.

Date  2011

Author   Aquatic Biologist

Historical Description

This 2,054 acre drainage lake is the largest lake in this watershed and the fifth largest in the St.
Croix drainage basin. Balsam Lake is heavily developed with residences and seasonal dwellings
and the Village of Balsam Lake adjacent to the southwest shoreline. Two large and very active
organizations represent the property owners around the lake; The Balsam Lake Protection and
Rehabilitation District and the Balsam Lake Homeowners Association.

The lake management district was formed in the mid-1970's and a feasibility study was
completed in 1979. This study showed Balsam Lake to be a meso-trophic lake with moderate
fertility. Shortcomings of this initial study led the Balsam Lake groups to independently finance
another general study of the lake (Lim Tech Consultants, 1986) and a two year study by the
USGS developing a lakewide hydraulic and nutrient budget and focusing on the Rice Creek
sub-watershed. A department memorandum report (Ryan, 1990) and a Bureau of Research
report (Engel & Nichols, 1991) further document the fertility and eutrophication problems in
this Rice Creek watershed
Self-help volunteers have been documenting water clarity conditions at three sites in Balsam
Lake and Rice Lake since 1988. The severe decline in Secchi readings for "Little Balsam Lake"
in 1991 lends additional documentation to the seriousness of the fertility contribution from the
Rice Lake system.

It is recommended that Balsam Lake be nominated for selection as a Nonpoint Source Priority
Lake Project. This lake is a high quality, high value, multiple-use aquatic resource. It has been
documented that this lake is susceptible to water quality degradation from external phosphorus
loading. The lake community has also demonstrated that it has the resolve to share in the lake
protection process and the determination to implement whatever programs are necessary to
achieve this goal.

Date  1992

Author   Surface Water Inventory Of Wisconsin

Historical Description

Balsam Lake is situated on Balsam Branch, a navigable stream (4.5 cfs cubic feet per second). Another navigable stream, Harder Creek, also drains into this lake. Northern pike, walleyes, largemouth bass, bluegills, black crappies, rock bass, perch, pumpkinseed and bullheads are the lake's major fish species. Public frontage consists of a fifty-foot wide access road with a limited parking area, a 100-foot wide swimming beach and access road with parking and ten unimproved platted access roads with a combined total frontage of 605 feet. There are 23 resorts, one boat livery and 256 cottages on the lake developing 7.5 per cent of the lake frontage, 230 acres of wetlands adjoin the lake. Muskrats are common. Mallards, bluewing teal, wood ducks and hooded mergansers nest here. Migrating waterfowl use consists mainly of diving ducks though there are also some puddle ducks and coots, and occasionally Canada geese. Boating use of the lake is extensive, but not a problem at present. A pollution problem which does exist is the oil discharge from the Polk County Highway Department garage, where it enters the lake above the dam.

Source: 1961, Surface Water Resources of Polk County

Balsam Lake T34, 35N, R16, 17W, Sec. 1, 2, 3, 6, 27, 35 Surface Acres = 1,900, S.D.F. = 4.35, Maximum Depth = 40 ft.,
M.P.A. = 84

Balsam Lake 4-13a T34N, R17W, Sec. 4
Surface Acres = 1.5, S.D.F. =1.05, Maximum Depth = 3 ft., M.P.A. =

Situated on an intermittent stream with an outlet to Balsam Lake.
A freeze-out lake, having no access roads, public lands, or private
development. Mallards and bluewing teat may nest here.

Balsam Lake 15-5 T34N, R17W, Sec. 15
Surface Acres = 1.6, S.D.F. = 2.48, Maximum Depth = 4 ft., M.P.A. =

A freeze-out, bog lake with an intermittent outlet to Balsam
Branch. No public land, access roads or private development.
Fifty-eight acres of marsh wetlands border the take. Mallards,
bluewing teal and wood ducks nest here.

Date  1961

Author   Surface Water Inventory Of Wisconsin

Balsam Lake, Balsam Branch Watershed (SC05) Fish and Aquatic LifeBalsam Lake, Balsam Branch Watershed (SC05) RecreationBalsam Lake, Balsam Branch Watershed (SC05) Fish Consumption

General Condition

Balsam Lake (2620600) was assessed during the 2016 listing cycle; total phosphorus and chlorophyll sample data were clearly below 2016 WisCALM listing thresholds for the Fish and Aquatic Life use. This water is meeting this designated uses and is not considered impaired.

Date  2015

Author  Ashley Beranek


Wisconsin has over 84,000 miles of streams, 15,000 lakes and milllions of acres of wetlands. Assessing the condition of this vast amount of water is challenging. The state's water monitoring program uses a media-based, cross-program approach to analyze water condition. An updated monitoring strategy (2015-2020) is now available. Compliance with Clean Water Act fishable, swimmable standards are located in the Executive Summary of Water Condition in 2018. See also the 'monitoring and projects' tab.



Lake Management Plan Implementation
Partnering with property owners, the applicant is sponsoring a grant to implement water quality and habitat best practices from Wisconsin's Healthy Lakes Implementation Plan. Best practices, including fish sticks, 350 sq. ft. native plantings, diversions, rock infiltration, and/or rain gardens, will be designed and installed according to the Healthy Lakes fact sheets, technical guidance and grant application.
Social Survey of Residents or Users
Lake Management Plan Development
Data analysis, report production
Land Acquisition
The Balsam Lake P&R District will purchase approximately 34 acres of property in the Stumps Bay area of Balsam Lake. The property is adjacent to property owned by the Lake District and will be maintained in a wild state and managed in accordance with the property management plan submitted with the lake protection grant application dated April 26, 2011.
Restore Riparian Habitat
Balsam Lake Protection & Rehabilitation District is initiating a lakewide shoreline restoration and waterfront runoff control program. Technical assistance, including landscaper and volunteer training and compliance/certification visits; shoreline restoration, rain garden, and infiltration pit/trench demonstration sites; promotion and education; and incentive payments are included in the program.
Land Acquisition
The Balsam Lake P&R District will purchase 18.5 acres of property in the Stumps Bay area of Balsam Lake. The property will be maintained in a wild state and managed in accordance with the property management plan submitted with the lake protection grant application dated April 28, 2005.
Land Acquisition
The Balsam Lake Protection & Rehabilitation District is proposing to purchase a vacant lot on Balsam Lake in Polk County. The lot is located adjacent to property owned by the lake district. The long term intent for use of this property is to maintain the property in its natural condition and preserve natural shoreland habitat.
Retention Basin - Create or Improve
Balsam Lake P & R District proposes to create a watershed project involving the construction of a sedimentation basin to reduce phosphorus loading to Balsam Lake.
Land Acquisition
The Balsam Lake Protection and Rehab District will acquire two (2) 40-acre parcels of land in the Balsam Lake area. The two parcels of land will be acquired in order to help protect the Balsam Lake Watershed because the current land use (ag/pasture) directly impacts the lake. After the current problems are corrected, these parcels will be used for lake protection and will be open to public access and use but no intensive access provisions are planned.
Nine Key Element Plan
The Balsam Branch Priority Watershed Project plan examines the sources of nonpoint pollution in the watershed and guides the implementation of pollution control measures. The goal of the plan is to protect, maintain, and enhance the aquatic ecosystem of the watershed. The control measures are designed to meet this goal. Sources of nonpoint pollution found in this watershed include: cropland, streambanks, gullies, construction sites, livestock manure, lakeshore property, urban land, and septic systems.
Monitor Watershed (Status,Sources,Impairments)
The Balsam Branch Priority Watershed Project plan examines the sources of nonpoint pollution in the watershed and guides the implementation of pollution control measures.
Nine Key Element Plan
The Balsam Branch Priority Watershed Project plan examines the sources of nonpoint pollution in the watershed and guides the implementation of pollution control measures.

Management Goals

Wisconsin's Water Quality Standards provide qualitative and quantitative goals for waters that are protective of Fishable, Swimmable conditions [Learn more]. Waters that do not meet water quality standards are considered impaired and restoration actions are planned and carried out until the water is once again fishable and swimmable

Management goals can include creation or implementation of a Total Maximum Daily Load analysis, a Nine Key Element Plan, or other restoration work, education and outreach and more. If specific recommendations exist for this water, they will be displayed below online.


Monitoring the condition of a river, stream, or lake includes gathering physical, chemical, biological, and habitat data. Comprehensive studies often gather all these parameters in great detail, while lighter assessment events will involve sampling physical, chemical and biological data such as macroinvertebrates. Aquatic macroinvertebrates and fish communities integrate watershed or catchment condition, providing great insight into overall ecosystem health. Chemical and habitat parameters tell researchers more about human induced problems including contaminated runoff, point source dischargers, or habitat issues that foster or limit the potential of aquatic communities to thrive in a given area. Wisconsin's Water Monitoring Strategy was recenty updated.

Grants and Management Projects

Monitoring Projects

Watershed Characteristics

Balsam Lake is located in the Balsam Branch watershed which is 104.07 miĀ². Land use in the watershed is primarily forest (31.60%), agricultural (28.40%) and a mix of grassland (18.70%) and other uses (21.30%). This watershed has 63.62 stream miles, 6,301.67 lake acres and 5,248.51 wetland acres.

Nonpoint Source Characteristics

This watershed is ranked High for runoff impacts on streams, High for runoff impacts on lakes and High for runoff impacts on groundwater and therefore has an overall rank of High. This value can be used in ranking the watershed or individual waterbodies for grant funding under state and county programs.However, all waters are affected by diffuse pollutant sources regardless of initial water quality. Applications for specific runoff projects under state or county grant programs may be pursued. For more information, go to surface water program grants.

Natural Community

Balsam Lake is considered a Shallow Lowland under the state's Natural Community Determinations.

Natural communities (stream and lake natural communities) represent model results and DNR staff valiation processes that confirm or update predicted conditions based on flow and temperature modeling from historic and current landscape features and related variables. Predicated flow and temperatures for waters are associated predicated fish assemblages (communities). Biologists evaluate the model results against current survey data to determine if the modeled results are corect and whether biological indicators show water quaity degradation. This analysis is a core component of the state's resource management framework. Wisconsin's Riverine Natural Communities.

Shallow lowland lake describes the depth and location of the lake in a watershed. These variables affect the lakes response to watershed variables.

Maps of Watershed